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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Aoun the national painkiller

One of the immediate effects of the February 14 rally was the reinvigoration of the campaign to oust Lahoud. Another effect was felt today, when Michel Aoun and the Lebanese Forces agreed on a "consensus candidate" for the vacant Baabda-Aley seat.

In his press conference today, Aoun was less belligerent than ever. His apparent victory in imposing his "consensus candidate" could be seen as the first of many deals to come with the March 14 grouping, who need Aoun's support on the presidency issue.

March 14 will find Aoun's offer hard to refuse. Here's what he is proposing: Elect me. I have an understanding with Hizbullah, others such as Boutros Harb don't. And if you don't agree with me, there is always parliament and the cabinet to resolve conflicts.

Since his return from exile, Aoun has been trying to repackage himself as the only available candidate. With FPM politicians still describing 1559 as a resolution serving "Lebanon's interests and independence", it is hard to believe that the FPM would risk alienating its base by giving it all to the pro-Syrian factions.

The jury is still out on how much Tuesday's rally, the understanding with Hizbullah, and other pandering to pro-Syrian parties, have cost Aoun on the Christian street. But one thing is certain. Aoun has successfully positioned himself as the only viable presidential candidate. Despite the momentum gained from Tuesday's rally, March 14 will not be able to sell any other candidate to Hizbullah and Amal, unless their plan is that of an all-out collision with the Shia parties and Aoun's FPM, which I find unlikely, despite Jumblatt's fiery speeches.

The March 14 grouping is also desperately trying to take care of last year's unfinished business, beginning with Lahoud's removal. And if one of their mistakes last year was in alienating Aoun, I think they will go out of their way to win him back. That is not to say Aoun does not need March 14. The Tuesday protests sent him a strong message that he cannot pursue his presidential project by ignoring the March 14 crowd.

Now that both Aoun and March 14 need each other more than ever, my guess is that a deal on the presidency will soon be reached between the two camps. The agreement on Dakkash was a sign that such a deal is possible. And with Hizbullah and Amal already denouncing the plan to remove Lahoud, calling it a "threat to the Shia community", a compromise Aoun presidency seems like the only option available to March 14.

In less than a year, Aoun transformed himself from an aggressive anti-Syrian antibiotic of sorts into a national painkiller. He is not always effective, but the country needs temporary relief from the pain that's tearing it apart. Those banking on deals between the current leaders to heal the country will be disappointed. There is a lot to be done, including corrective legislative action, a new electoral law, and a comprehensive development plan for those parts of the country where government is both absent and being absented.

The "consensus candidate" agreement for Ba'abda-Aley is an ominous development for democracy. Predetermined elections through consensus candidates arrived at in smoke filled rooms are nothing short of stealing away from citizens their most essential and most valuable right, the right to vote. What could be even worse is that this agreement is to be followed by other understandings that would be sold to the public as good for the national interest. That would be the furthest thing away from the truth.

I am not worried about whether General Aoun would refacilitate the reestablishment of Syrian power in the country. Neither am I worried about his rapprochement with HA. What worries me is that he has demonstrated that his positions were too unprincipled and that expediency is more valued than principal.

Pitty the nation that is willing to settle for the lowest common denominator when it can reach for the "gold". Settling for Aoun as a president is accepting the status quo and regaling in it. It is a reflection ofthe inability to grow, to aspire to think of the broader possibilities of what could be. It is a failure of imagination and saddly it cannot be but a failure of a country to take advantage of a situation to reinvent itself and to rise above the conventional bickering in a traditional society .

You are so right, Kais, when you title your post as "Aoun the national painkiller". Painkillers just camouflage the pain, they do not deal with its real source. No self respecting physician will use painkillers when what is needed is a radical surgery to excise the cancer. Painkillers deal only with symptoms and never the disease.
people power is something that the lebanese constitution guarantees, in
the sense that it stipulates that the people are the source of all
powers (al sha3eb houwa masDar al soulouTat).

last year on march 14 the opposition called on people power to turn the
table on the syrian occupation, and this year on march 14 it is
expected that people power will be asked again for help in toppling the
figurehead of the syrian occupation.

there is an important assumption that one can deduce here, which is
that the leadership trusts the judgement of the lebanese people even in
very critical situations. the civilized behavior of the demonstrators
in both march 14 last year and february 14 this year seems to indicate
that this trust is well placed.

a question that comes up then is, if the leadership trusts the people
with such a monumental and truely dangerous task as overthrowing a
president (and not just any president, but one who has proven to be
spiteful and cruel on 7 august 2001 as an example), then why doesn't
this leadership trust the people with a simple parliamentary election
as that of baabda-aley?

why all this talk about the imperative for a consensus agreement
(tawefo')? the very concept of avoiding an election is
anti-democratic, for whatever reason it may be.

all the leaders on every side keep telling their constituency that this
tawefo' is to avoid the polarization from an electoral battle
especially at this "sensitive" juncture (tajneeb al balad tashannouj
ma3raka intikhabiya fi haza-l zarf al daqeeq...). so, it's ok for the
different parties to have rising tensions over selfish reasons, over
political choices, even over the country's future and our most basic
foundational principles, but it's too dangerous for the people to have
some rivalry in choosing their own representatives?

who is buying this joke anymore?

the concept of tawefo' which is being pushed by the clergy and being
embraced by the political "leader-sheep" in lebanon should be condemned
and denounced by the lebanese people, if the people are the source of
all powers then who the hell is anybody to deny them their most basic
voting rights, who has given the clergy the right to appoint for us a
parliamentary representative through consensus behind closed doors? is
it god?

is god the source of all powers in lebanon, or is it the people?

it is clear that this people power-outage is deliberate and not due to
inclement weather from the current political storms. this whole
production of tawefo' in all its insulting facets, from refusing to
reveal the names of the candidates being discussed by the "powers that
be", in other words refusing to reveal to the people the name of their
*own* potential *representative* [!], to the talk now about waiting for
"white smoke" to come out in rabieh-city on sunday at ...drums... high
noon, this entire production amounts to nothing more than an insulting
charade of the cheapest off-off-off-off-broadway kind.

it is insulting to the people who are being robbed at high noon of
their most basic right. it is insulting to the very concept of
democracy. and, of course, it is insulting to the vatican and the real
pope (for reasons too obvious to even go into).

if this collection of self-important leaders are so good at tawefo'
over the elections, then why don't they agree on everything else and
stop calling on us for demonstrations? could it be because they all
amount to nothing more than middle-men for the clergy and all their
holy roofs over everyone's heads?

I personally have come to believe so, and I believe that berri's call
for national dialogue is not "beb awwal" as he claimed, it is second
rate at best if the clergy themselves will not be sitting at the table.
but if there's no way to cut the middle-man in this case, then at
least please spare us your ridiculous pomp and ceremony, be it the
pompous mystery behind the negotiations, or the stupid white smoke
ceremonies, no one is impressed.
I don't understand why people are making this fuss about ousting Lahoud. Don't the 14 of March forces need 2/3 of the parliament to do that? How are they planning to remove Lahoud out of office if Aoun doesn't agree??
with the goal in mind and the spirit to achieve, then victory is that close.
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